Hypnagogic imagery: gateway to lucid dreaming

© Clare R Johnson, PhD

There’s a doorway into lucid dreaming we can enter every night.

The doorway opens when we’re lying in bed, eyes closed, deeply relaxed, just drifting slightly. This is the moment when, if we remain mentally alert, we might notice dots of light like distant stars, or wriggly, unfathomable shapes which disappear the moment we pay attention to them. We may hear noises or have a sensation of movement. If we manage to keep the balance right (not too awake, not too asleep), we will start to see bizarre, static images flash on and off the screen of our mind’s eye. These images may start to move – just slightly at first, and then more as they become moving films.

mandala-113869_640

We need to stay aware! At this point it’s all too easy to get sucked into the hypnagogic images and fall asleep. If we can retain conscious awareness, these mind-films will take a leap into three-dimensionality. We’ll suddenly find ourselves no longer observing them from a distance, but surrounded by them on all sides, as if we just jumped into a cinema screen.

This is the beginning of dreaming.

Anyone who has managed to hold their attention this far has entered a lucid dream from the waking state (often known as a WILD or Wake-Induced Lucid Dream).

 

Typical Hypnagogic Images, Sounds and Sensations

“A sea monster rising from a lake”

“Drum beats, echoing all around”

“Shoe-trees, a whole forest of them”

“Faces in the sky”

“Falling

towards

a red-brick wall”

 

Notice and record your hypnagogic imagery. What is it like? All sorts of creative ideas can be found in this half-awake, half-asleep state. Ideas for poems, pictures, fictional characters, music. The more you notice your own pre-sleep imagery, the more likely you are to be able to carry lucid awareness right through the dream-building process and have a WILD.

Although I feel largely indifferent to the inner workings of machines, my hypnagogic imagery often features the most complex machinery I’ve ever seen and which I don’t have the technical vocabulary to describe. Cogs, pistons, and other unnameable mechanical parts are all assembled by some technological wizard (my dreaming mind?) into intricate movements. Whenever I see one of these monstrous machines, I know I’m about to have a WILD.

machine

 

Hypnagogic imagery is known for its weird, random nature. With practice, the bizarreness of pre-sleep images will trigger lucidity as we realise: “Hey, wait, skunks don’t fly. I’m starting to dream!”

 

 

 

Returning through the Doorway

There’s another easy entry point into lucid dreaming. Every night, each of us have brief awakenings, whether we notice them or not. If you want to learn to lucid dream, you need to start noticing these awakenings.

As we wake up from a dream in the middle of the night, we can sometimes still see the dream hanging in the air, superimposed onto our bedroom, or present as vivid imagery in our mind’s eye. This is called hypnopompia and it happens when we return through the doorway from dreaming to waking.

If you notice hypnopompic imagery, you can stay with the dream that’s just finishing (dream re-entry) or go into a new lucid dream (WILD). Remind yourself: ‘I’ve been dreaming and now I will dream again, this time lucidly.’ Or think of something shorter if that works better for you: Simply repeating ‘I’m lucid, I’m lucid,’ works well for me.

Playing with Hypnagogia to Get Lucid

  • Practise observing your hypnagogic images: the Surrealists had fun with this. Try dozing in an armchair with a pen and paper to hand, and write down the imagery as it arises.
  • Get to know your own style of weirdness: are there any recurring themes in your hypnagogic imagery? At first it may all seem too random to tell, but as you pay attention you’ll gradually notice that you tend to see flying animals, or wide-open landscapes, or fire. You may hear camera shutters or explosions. You may tend to experience falling sensations. Once you’ve identified your own hypnagogic tendencies, these can then be used as triggers to help you to stay lucid as you fall asleep.
  • Landing in the void: Sometimes focusing on pre-sleep images until you enter a WILD does not lead into an imagery-rich lucid dream, but into the blackness of the void, or into sleep paralysis. From here you can enter a lucid dream by freeing yourself from fear and relaxing, before imagining a vivid scene that you’d like to enter. Practical tips in this video chat I did with Dr Rory MacSweeney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSsQc3R6ikE
  • Dream re-entry: Whenever you wake up in the night, immediately recall your intention to have a lucid dream. Look for hypnopompic imagery or just remember the last dream you had. Then focus intently on those images until they sweep you back up into the dream again; this time, stay lucid.